HOW FAR LAND MONOPOLISATION HAS ALREADY GONE.
IN all the new States of the Union land monopolisation
has gone on at an alarming rate, but in none of them so fast as in California,
and in none of them, perhaps, are its evil effects so manifest.
California is the
greatest land State in the Union, both in extent (for Texas owns her own
land) and in the amount of land still credited to the Government in Department
reports. With an area of 188,981 square miles, or, in round numbers, 121,000,000
acres, she has a population of less than 600,000—that is to say, with an
area twenty-four times as large as Massachusetts, she has a population not
half as great. Of this population not one third is engaged in agriculture,
and the amount of land under cultivation does not exceed 2,500,000 acres.
Surely land should here be cheap, and the immigrant should come with the
certainty of getting a homestead at Government price! But this is not so.
Of the 100,000,000 acres of public land which, according to the last report
of the Department, yet remain in California (which of course includes all
the mountains and sterile plains), some 20,000,000 acres are withheld from
settlement by railroad reservations, and millions of acres more are held under
unsettled Mexican grants, or by individuals under the possessory laws of
the State, without colour of title. Though here or there, if he knew where
to find it, there may be a little piece of Government land left, the notorious
fact is that the immigrant coming to the State to-day must, as a general thing,
pay their price to the middlemen before he can begin to cultivate the soil.
Although the population of California, all told—miners, city residents, Chinamen
and Diggers—does not amount to three to the square mile; although the arable
land of the State has hardly been scratched (and with all her mountains and
dry plains California has an arable surface greater than the entire area
of Ohio), it is already so far monopolised that a large part of the farming
is done by renters, or by men who cultivate their thousands of acres in a
single field. For the land of California is already to a great extent monopolised
by a few individuals, who hold thousands and hundreds of thousands of acres
apiece. Across many of these vast estates a strong horse cannot gallop in
a day, and one may travel for miles and miles over fertile ground, where
no plough has ever struck, but which is all owned, and on which no settler
can come to make himself a home, unless he pay such tribute as the lord of
the domain chooses to exact.
Nor is there any
State in the Union in which settlers in good faith have been so persecuted,
so robbed, as in California. Men have grown rich, and men still make a
regular business of blackmailing settlers upon public land, of appropriating
their homes, and this by the power of law and in the name of justice. Land
grabbers have had it pretty much their own way in California—they have moulded
the policy of the general Government; have dictated the legislation of
the State; have run the land offices and used the courts. Let us look briefly
at the modes by which this land monopolisation has been carried on.
THE MEXICAN GRANTS.
CALIFORNIA has had one curse which the other
States have not had —the Mexican grants. The Mexican land policy was a
good one for a sparsely settled pastoral country, such as California before
the American occupation. To every citizen who would settle on it, a town
lot was given; to every citizen who wanted it, a cattle range was granted.
By the terms of the cession of California to the United States it was provided
that these rights should be recognised.
It would have been
better, far better, if the American Government had agreed to permit these
grant-holders to retain a certain definite amount of land around their
improvements, and compounded for the rest of the grants called for by the
payment of a certain sum per acre, turning it into the public domain. This
would have been best, not only for the future population of California, but
for the grant-holders themselves as the event has proved.
Or, if means had been taken for a summary
and definite settlement of these claims, the evils entailed by them would
have been infinitesimal compared with what have resulted. For it is not
the extent of the grants (and all told the bona fide ones call for probably
nine or ten million acres of the best land of California), which has wrought
the mischief, so much as their unsettled condition—not the treaty with Mexico,
but our own subsequent policy.
It is difficult in a brief space to give
anything like an adequate idea of the villainies for which these grants
have been made the cover. If the history of the Mexican grants of California
is ever written, it will be a history of greed, of perjury, of corruption,
of spoliation and high-handed robbery, for which it will be difficult to
find a parallel.
The Mexican grants were vague, running merely
for so many leagues within certain natural boundaries, or between other
grants, though they were generally marked out in rough fashion. It is this
indefiniteness, which has given such an opportunity for rascality, and has
made them such a curse to California, and which, at the same time, has
prevented in nearly all cases their original owners from reaping from them
any commensurate benefit. Between the Commission which first passed upon
the validity of the grants and final patent, a thousand places were found
where the grant could be tied up, and where, indeed, after twenty-three years
of litigation the majority of them still rest. Ignorant of the language,
of the customs, of the laws of the new rulers of their country, without the
slightest idea of technical subtleties and legal delays, mere children as
to business—the native grant-holders were completely at the mercy of shrewd
lawyers and sharp speculators, and at a very early day nearly all the grants
passed into other hands.
HOW THE GRANTS FLOAT.
As soon as settlers began to cultivate farms
and make improvements, the grants began to float. The grant-holders watched
the farmers coming into their neighbourhood, much as a robber chief of
the Middle Ages might have watched a rich Jew taking up his abode within
striking distance of his castle. The settler may have been absolutely certain
that he was on Government land, and may even have been so assured by the
grant-holder himself; but so soon as he had built his house and fenced his
land and planted his orchard, he would wake up some morning to find that
the grant had been floated upon him, and that his land and improvements
were claimed by some land shark who had gouged a native Californian out
of his claim to a cattle-run, or wanting an opportunity to do this, had
set up a fraudulent grant, supported by forged papers and suborned witnesses.
Then he must either pay the blackmailer's price, abandon the results of
his hard labour, or fight the claim before surveyor-general, courts, commissioner,
secretary, and Congress itself, while his own property, parcelled out into
contingent fees, furnished the means for carrying the case from one tribunal
to another, for buying witnesses and bribing corrupt officials. And then,
frequently, after one set of settlers had been thus robbed, new testimony
would be discovered, a new survey would be ordered, and the grant would stretch
out in another direction over another body of settlers, who would then suffer
in the same way, while in many cases, as soon as one grant had been bought
off or beaten away, another grant would come, and there are pieces of land
in California for which four or five different titles have been purchased.
The ruling of the
courts has been, that so long as the grants had not been finally located,
their owners might hold possession within their exterior boundaries and
eject settlers. Thus, if a grant is for one league, within certain natural
boundaries, which include fifty, the claimant can put settlers off any part
of the fifty leagues.
Whenever any valuable
mine or spring is discovered in the neighbourhood of any of these grants,
then the grant jumps. If they prove worthless, then it floats back again.
Thus the celebrated Mariposa claim, after two or three locations in the
valley, was finally carried up into the mountains, where it had as much
business as it would have had in Massachusetts or Ohio, and stretched out
into the shape of a boot to cover a rich mining district. Among the property
given to John Charles Frémont and his partners, by this location, was
the Ophir mine and mill, upon which an English company had spent over $100,000,
after assurances from the Mariposa people that the mine was outside their
claim. In the southern half of California, where these grants run, there
has been hardly a valuable spring or mine discovered that was not pounced
upon by a grant. One of the latest instances was the attempt to float the
Cuyamaca grant over the new San Diego mining district, and to include some
sixty-five mines—one of them, the pioneer, on which $200,000 has been expended.
Another was the attempt to float a grant over the noted Geyser Springs,
in Sonoma county. In both these cases the attempt was defeated, General Hardenburgh
refusing to approve the surveys. In the latter case, however, it was dog
eat dog, the great scrip locator, W. S. Chapman, having plastered Sioux
warrant over the wonderful springs. He has since obtained a patent, though
I understand that somebody else laid a school-land warrant on the springs
HOW THE GRANTS ARE STRECHED OUT
HARDLY any attention seems to have been paid
to the amount of land granted by the Mexican authorities. Though, under the
colonisation laws, eleven leagues (a Mexican league contains 4,438 acres)
constituted the largest amount that could be granted, many of these grants
have been confirmed and patented for much more (in the teeth of a decision
of the United States Supreme Court), and under others yet unsettled, much
larger amounts are still held. Grants for one league have been confirmed
for eleven. Claims rejected by the Commission have been confirmed by the
District Courts, and claims rejected by other decisions of the Supreme Court
have been got through by the connivance of law officers of the Government
who would suffer the time for appeal to lapse or take it so that it would
be thrown out on a technicality.
As for the surveys
they might almost as well have been made by the grant-holders themselves,
and seem, as a general thing, to have run about as the grant-holders wished.
The grants have been extended here, contracted there, made to assume all
sorts of fantastic shapes, for the purpose of covering the improvements
of settlers and taking in the best land. There is one of them that on the
map looks for all the world like a tarantula—a fit emblem of the whole class.
In numbers of cases, the names of which might be recited, grants of four
leagues have been stretched in the survey to eight; grants of two leagues
to six; grants of five to ten; and in one case it has been attempted to stretch
one league to forty. In one case, the Saucal Re¡dondo, where a two-league
grant had been confirmed to five, and a survey of 22,190 acres made, a
new survey was ordered by a clerk of the surveyor-general, and a survey
taking in 25,000 acres more of United States land covered by settlers was
made and fixed up in the office; and it was not until after some years of
litigation before the Department that this fact was discovered. In some
cases speculators who were "on the inside" would buy from a Spanish grantee
the use of the name of his claim, and get a new survey which would take in
for them thousands of acres more. The original claimant of Rancho la Laguna
asked for three leagues, or 13,314 acres; the survey was made and confirmed
for 18,000. Afterwards it was set aside, on the pretence that the Santa
Barbara paper, in which the advertisement of survey had been published, was
printed for part of the time in San Francisco, and a survey taking in 48,703
acres made, which, after being rejected by Commissioner Edwards, was patented
by Commissioner Wilson. The Rancho Guadaloupe, a grant of 21,520 acres,
was surveyed for 32,408 acres in 1860, the survey approved, a patent issued,
and the ranch sold. Now the new owner, supported by an affidavit from
the surveyor that objection was made to the 32,000 acre survey in 1860
by the two Mexican owners (one of whom died in 1858), is trying to get
a new survey confirmed which takes in 11,000 acres more. The survey of
Los Nogales was made in 1861, under a decree for one league and no more,
and now an application for a new survey, which will include 11,000 acres
more is being pushed. The land is covered by settlers.
THE BIG GRAPE-VINE RANCHO.
PERHAPS the most daring attempt to grab lands
and rob settlers under pretence of a Mexican grant—so daring that it has
almost a touch of the comic—is the case of Los Prietos y Najalayegua, which
was shown up first in a little pamphlet by James F. Stuart, of San Francisco,
and afterwards in Congress by Mr. Julian, to whom the settlers of California
are indebted for many signal services. In Santa Barbara county there is living
an old Mexican, named Jose Dominguez, on whose little ranch grows an immense
grape-vine. In the old times Dominguez had petitioned for another tract of
land of about a league and half, but he neglected to comply with the conditions,
and sold it for the sum of one dollar. In fact he seems to have sold it twice.
Finally the claim passed into the hands of Thomas A. Scott, the Pennsylvania
railroad king, and Edward J. Pringle, of San Francisco. It had never been
presented to the United States Commission, and was consequently barred. But
in 1866 a bill confirming the grant, and accompanied by a memorial purporting
to be from Dominguez, but which Dominguez swears he never saw, was introduced
by Mr. Conness, and slipped quietly through, under pretence of giving the
old man, with his sixty children and grandchildren, the big grape-vine which
his mother had planted.
The bill was assisted
in the House by the reading of a letter from Mr. Levi Parsons, in which
a visit to the Mexican Patriarch and his great grape-vine, the only support
of a greater family, was most touchingly described, and the intervention
of Congress asked as a matter of justice and humanity. Then came the survey;
and the speculators, emboldened by their success with Congress, went in
for a big grab, taking in the modest amount of 208,742 acres —a pretty good
dollar's worth of land, considering that it included many valuable farms
and vineyards. They asked too much, for an outcry was made and a resurvey
was ordered, which is now pending.
THE real grants have been bad enough, the
bogus grants have been worse. Their manufacture commenced early—the signatures
of living ex-Mexican officials being sometimes procured. Of this class
was the famous Limantour claim to a great portion of San Francisco. It was
finally defeated, but not until a large amount had been paid to its holders,
and enormous expenses incurred in fighting it. Many of these claims have
been pressed to final patent, land settlers driven from their homes by sheriff's
posses or the bayonets of the United States troops. Others have only been
used for purposes of blackmail, the owners of threatened property being
compelled to remove the shadow from their title when obliged to borrow or
to sell, and finding it cheaper to pay the sums asked than to incur the expense
of long and tedious litigation, many steps in which had to be taken in Washington.
Thanks to the possessory
law of the State, as interpreted by State courts, where the holders of
a bogus claim secure possession they have been all right as long as they
could delay final action. After the action of the District Court five years
are allowed for appeal to the Supreme Court, and then a smart attorney can
easily keep the case hang¡ng from year to year. In one case where a
modest demand for some forty leagues was rejected, because in forging the
Mexican seal on the grant, the head of the cactus-mounted eagle had been
carelessly put where his tail ought to be, the appeal has been kept at the
foot of the docket for years, while the claimants are enjoying the land
just as fully as if they had paid the Government for it, and are actually
selling it to settlers, who know the claim to be fraudulent, at from $2 to
$10 per acre. If the supreme Court ever does reach the case, the appeal will
be dismissed. A new motion will then be made, and finally, when all the
law's delays are exhausted, the settlers will have to pay the Government
$1.25 per acre for the land. Meantime they can get it only by paying his
price to the holder of this notoriously fraudulent claim.
It has at all times
been within the power of Congress to end this uncertainty as to land titles,
and settle these Mexican claims. There has been a great deal of legislation
on the subject, but somehow or other it has always turned out for the benefit
of the land grabbers. Modes of procedure have been changed; cases have
been thrown from the courts into the land offices; from the land offices
back to the courts, and then from the courts back to the land offices again.
Always some excuse for delay; always some loophole in the law, through which
the land grabber could easily pass, but in which the settler would be crushed.
The majority of these Mexican grants are yet unsettled. Their owners do
not want them settled so long as they can hold thousands of acres more than
they have a shadow of claim to, and delay as much as possible. These are
cases where the last step to secure patent can be taken at any time, by
the making of a motion or the payment of a fee; but which are suffered to
remain in that condition, while in the meantime the claim holders are selling
quitclaim deeds to settlers, for land which their patents would show they
do not own.
THE PUEBLO OF SAN FRANCISCO.
FOR the injuries which these Mexican grants
have done to California, the Mexican land policy is not responsible. That
merely furnished the pretext under cover of which our policy has fostered
land monopolisation. What of the Mexican policy was bad under our different
conditions, we have made infinitely worse; what would still have been good,
we have discarded. The same colonisation laws under which these great
grants were made gave four square leagues to each town in which to provide
homes for its inhabitants, the only conditions being good character and
occupancy. The American city of San Francisco, as the successor of the
Mexican pueblo, came into a heritage such as no great city of modern times
has enjoyed—land enough for a city as large as London, dedicated to the
purpose of providing every family with a free homestead. Here was an opportunity
to build up a great city, in which tenement houses and blind alleys would
be unknown; in which there would be less poverty, suffering, crime and
social and political corruption than in any city of our time, of equal
numbers. This magnificent opportunity has been thrown and with the exception
of a great sand bank, the worst could be found, reserved for a part, and
a few squares reserved for public buildings, the heritage of all the people
of San Francisco has been divided among a few hundred. Of the successive
steps, culminating in the United States law of 1866, by which this was
accomplished, of the battles of land grabbers to take and to keep, and
of the municipal corruption engendered, it is not worth while here to
speak. The deed is done. We have made a few millionaires, and now the
citizen of San Francisco who needs a home must pay a large sum for permission
to build it on land ded¡cated to its use ere the American flag had
been raised in California.
THE RAILROAD GRANTS OF CALIFORNIA.
THE grants made to railroads of public lands
in the State of California are: The grant to the Western Pacific and Central
Pacific, of ten alternate sections on each side per mile (12,800 acres),
made to half that amount in 1862, and doubled in 1864; the grants to the
Southern Pacific and to the California and Oregon, of ten alternate sections
on each side, with ten miles on each side in which to make up deficiencies,
made in 1866; the grant to the Stockton and Copperopolis, of five alternate
sections on each side, with twenty miles on each side in which to make up
deficiencies, made in 1867; the grants to the Texas Pacific and to
the connecting branch of the Southern Pacific, of ten alternate sections on
each side, with ten miles for deficiencies, made in 1871. A grant was also
made in 1866 to the Sacramento and Placerville road, but the idea of building
the road was abandoned, and the grant has lapsed.
Upon the map of California (see frontispiece)
the reservations for these grants are marked in red. This marking does
not show the exact limits of the reservations, as they follow the rectilinear
section lines, which it is, of course, impossible to show on so small a
scale—nor are the routes of the roads precisely drawn. But it gives a perfectly
correct idea of the extent and general course of these reservations. The
exhibit is absolutely startling—a commentary on the railroad land-grant policy
of Congress to the force of which no words can add. Observe the proportion
which these reservations bear to the total area of the State, and observe
at the same time the topography of California—how the railroad reservations
cover nearly all the great central valleys, and leave but the mountains,
and you may get an idea of how these reservations are cursing the State.
It is true that
the companies do not get all of the land included in these reservations,
nor even half of it; but for the present, at least, so far as the greater
part of it is concerned, they might as well get it all. Pre-emption or homestead
settlers may still go upon the even sections, but the trouble is to find
them. The greater part of this land is unsurveyed, or having been once
surveyed, the vaqueros, who share in the prejudices of their employers
against settlers, have pulled up the stakes, and the settler cannot tell
whether he gets on Government or on railroad land. If on Government land,
he is all right, and can get 80 acres for $22, as a homestead; or 160 acres
for $400 by pre-emption. But it is an even chance that he is on railroad
land, and if so, he is at the mercy of a corporation which will make with
him no terms, in advance. Settlers will not take such chances.
These railroad grants have worked nothing
but evil to California. Though given under pretext of aiding settlement,
they have really retarded it. Of all the roads ever subsidised in the United
States, the Central Pacific is the one to which the giving of a subsidy
is the most defensible.
But so large was the subsidy, in money and
bonds, that the road could have been built, and would have been built,
just as soon without the land grant. The Western Pacific land grant became
the property of a single individual, who did nothing towards building the
road—the company that did build the road (the Central) buying the franchise
minus the land grant. The Southern Pacific land grant has actually postponed
the building of a road southward through California, and had the grant
never been made, it is certain that an unsubsidised road would already
have been running farther into Southern California than the land-grant road
yet does. Of the California and Oregon land grant, the same thing may be
said. The Stockton and Copperopolis grant was made in 1867, but the building
of the road has only been commenced this year. And it is exceedingly probable
that had this land been open to settlers, the business, actual and prospective,
would by this time have offered sufficient inducements for the building
of the road. All these land grants, with the exception perhaps of that from
the Eastern boundary to San Diego, and with the exception of the Western
Pacific grant, are owned by a single firm, who also own all the railroads
in California, having bought what they did not build.
It is generally argued when land grants are
made, that it is to the interest of the companies to sell their lands cheaply,
because settlement will bring them business. But the land-grant companies
of California seem in no hurry to sell their lands, preferring to wait
for the greater promise of the future. Neither the Southern Pacific nor
the California and Oregon will make any terms with settlers until their lands
are surveyed and listed over to them. It is, of course, to their interest
to have the Government sections settled first, and to reserve their own land
for higher prices after the Government land is gone. The Central Pacific advertises
to sell good farming land for $2.50 per acre; but when one goes to buy good
farming land for that price, he finds that it has been sold to the Sacramento
Land Company, a convenient corporation, which stands to the company in its
land business just as the Contract and Finance Company did in the building
of the road.
PRIVATE ENTRY AND SCRIP LOCATIONS.
LARGE bodies of the public lands of California
were offered at public sale long before there was any demand for them.
When the failure of placer mining directed industry towards agriculture,
and the beginnings of the railroad system led to hopes of a large immigration,
these lands were gobbled up by a few large speculators, by the hundred thousand
acres. The larger part of the available portion of the great San Joaquin
Valley went in this way, and the process has gone on from Siskiyou on the
north to San Diego on the south.
According to common report, the speculators
have received every facility in the land offices. While the poor settler
who wanted a farm would have to trudge off to look at the land himself,
the speculator or his agent had all the information which could be furnished.
Land, which had never been sold or applied for, would be marked on the maps
as taken, in order to keep it from settlers and reserve it for speculators;
and in some cases, it is even said that settlers selecting land and going
to the Land Office to apply for it, would be put off for a few minutes while
the land they wanted would be taken up in behalf of the speculator, and then
they would be referred to him, if they desired to purchase.
A great deal of this land has been located
with the Agricultural College scrip of Eastern States, bought by the speculators
at an average of about fifty cents per acre, in greenbacks, when greenbacks
were low, and sold or held at prices varying from $4 to $20 per acre, in
gold. Whole townships have been taken up at once in this way; but the law
was amended in 1867, so that only three sections in the same township can
now be located with this scrip. The Agricultural scrip of California has
been sold at about $5 per acre, having special privileges.
The Act of last year, making this California
scrip locatable on unsurveyed land, within railroad reservations, etc.,
is a good sample of the recklessness of Congressional legislation on land
matters. It is so loosely drawn that by the purchase of forty acres a speculator
can tie up a whole township. The Land Agent of the University has only to
give notice to the United States Register that he has an application for
land (without specifying amount or locality) in a certain township, and the
Register must hold the plats of survey for sixty days after their return.
Should a pre-emptor go on before this time, there is nothing to prevent the
speculator from swooping down upon him and asserting that his farm is the
particular piece of ground he wanted. Happily, nearly all this scrip will
be used for locating timber land, for which the scrip of other States is
not available, as it can only be located on surveyed land, and the surveyed
timber land has long since been taken up.
Besides the Agricultural scrip, a large amount
of Half Breed scrip has been located by speculators. This scrip was issued
to Indians in lieu of their lands, and was made by law locatable only
by the Indians themselves, and though the speculators pretended to locate
as the attorneys of the Indians, the location was illegal. However, it
was made, and patents have been issued.
In this way millions of acres in California
have been monopolised by a handful of men. The chief of these speculators
now holds some 350,000 acres, while thousands and thousands of acres which
he located with scrip or paid $1.25 per acre for, have been sold to settlers
at rates varying from $5 to $20 per acre, the settlers paying cash enough
to clear him and leave a balance, and then giving a mortgage for and paying
interest on the remainder; and a large quantity of his land is rented—cultivators
furnishing everything and paying the landlord one fourth of their crop.
And as has been the case in all the methods
of land monopolisation in California, these scrip locations have been used
not only to grab unoccupied lands, but to rob actual settlers of their
improved farms. In one instance a large scrip speculator got a tool of
his appointed to make the survey of a tract of land in one of the southern
counties which had been long occupied by actual settlers. This deputy surveyor
persuaded the settlers that it would be cheaper for them to get a State
title to their lands than to file pre-emption claims, and they accordingly
proceeded to do this. But as the clock struck nine, and the doors of the
Land Office in San Francisco were thrown open on the morning the plats were
filed, another agent of the speculator entered with an armful of scrip which
he proceeded to plaster over the settlers' farms.
MANAGEMENT OF THE CALIFORNIA STATE LANDS.
WE have seen what Federal legislation has
done to inflict the curse of land monopoly upon California. Let us now
see what has been done by the State herself. We shall find that reckless
as have been the dealings of the general Government with our lands, the dealings
of the State have been even worse.
And here let it be remarked that for most
of these wrong acts of the Federal Government, the people of California
are themselves largely responsible. For the public manifestation of a strong
sentiment here could not have failed to exert great influence upon Congress.
But, for instance, instead of objecting to railroad grants, we have, for
the most part, hailed them as an evidence of Congressional liberality;
and when the Southern Pacific had once forfeited its grant, the California
Legislature asked Congress to give it back without suggesting a single
restriction on the sale or management of the lands. In 1870, a bill actually
passed the House reserving the public lands of California for homestead
entry, as the lands of the Southern States had been reserved, but it went
over in the Senate on the objection of Senator Nye, of Nevada. There is
little doubt that the manifestation of a strong desire on our part would,
at any time, secure the passage of such a bill.
The specific grants made to California, in
common with other land States, which have been before enumerated, amount
to an aggregate of 7,421,804 acres—an area almost as large as that of Massachusetts
and Connecticut combined. Besides these grants; all the swamp lands are
given to the State for purposes of reclamation, of which 3,381,691 acres
have already been sold-about all there is.
These large donations have proved an evil
rather than a benefit to the people of California; for in disposing of
them, the State has given even greater facilities for monopoly than has
the Federal Government, and the practical effect of the creation of two
sources of title to public land has been to harass settlers and to give
opportunity for a great deal of robbery and rascality.
The land policy of the State of California
must be traced through some thirty-five or forty Acts, in whose changes
and technicalities the non-expert will soon become bewildered. It is only
necessary here to give its salient features.
It must be understood in the first place
that the only grant of specific pieces of land is that of the 16th and
36th sections of each township. When these are occupied or otherwise disposed
of, other sections are given in lieu of them. These lieu lands, as well
as the lands granted in specific amounts, the State has had the privilege
of taking from any unappropriated Government land, the ownership of the
swamp lands being decided by the nature of the land itself. With this large
floating grant, as it may be termed, the general policy of the State has
been, not to select the lands and then to sell them, but in effect to sell
to individuals its right of selection.
Now, under the general laws of the United
States, until land is offered at public sale, there is no way of getting
title to it save by actual settlement, and then in tracts of not over 160
acres to each individual. And though since 1862 the pre-emption right has
applied to unsurveyed lands, yet until land is surveyed and the plats filed,
the settler can make no record of his pre-emption.
To this land thus reserved by the general
laws for the small farms of actual settlers, the State grants gave an opportunity
of obtaining title without regard to settlement or amount-an opportunity
which speculators have well improved. In defiance of the laws of the United
States, and even of the Act admitting California into the Union, the State
at first sold even unsurveyed land, a policy which continued until the courts
declared it illegal in 1863. In 1852, to dispose of the 500,000 acre grant
(which the Constitution of the State gave to the School Fund), warrants
were issued purchasable at $2 per acre in depreciated scrip, and locatable
on any unoccupied Government land, surveyed or unsurveyed. These warrants,
however, were not saleable to anyone person in amounts of more than 640
acres, and the buyer had to make affidavit that he intended to make permanent
settlement on the land. But as the warrants were assignable, and aff¡davits
cheap, these restrictions were of but little avail. Passing for the most
part into the hands of speculators, the warrants enabled them to forestall
the settler and even in many cases to take his farm from him; for though
by the terms of the law the warrants could only be laid on unoccupied land,
yet when once laid, they were prima facie evidence of title, and the difficulty
could be got over only by collusion with county officers and false affidavits.
These school-land warrants have been a terror to the California settler,
and many a man who has made himself a home, relying upon the general laws
of the Federal Government, has seen the results of his years of toil and
privation pass into the hands of some soulless cormorant, who, without his
knowledge, had plastered over his farm with school-land warrants. The law
under which the warrants were issued was repealed in 1858, and the policy
adopted of settling the State title to applicants for land, in amounts not
to exceed 320 acres to each individual, at the rate of $1.25 per acre, payable
either in cash, or twenty percent in cash, and the balance on credit with
interest at ten per cent. The 16th and 36th sections, or the lands in lieu
of them, were at first given to the respective townships, to be sold for
the benefit of the Township School Fund; but were afterwards made saleable
as other lands for the benefit of the General Fund.
The swamp lands were from the first made
saleable in tracts not exceeding 320 acres to each person, for $1 per
acre, cash or credit, the proceeds to be applied to the reclamation of
the land, under regulations varied by different laws, from time to time.
This was virtually giving them away-the true policy; but the trouble is
that for the most part they have been given to a few men.
Up to 1868, the State had always, in words
at least, recognised the principle that one man should not be permitted
to take more than a certain amount of land; but by the Act of March 28th,
of that year, which repealed all previous laws, and is still, with some
trifling amendments, the land law of the State, all restrictions of amount,
except as to the 16th and 36th sections proper, were swept away; and with
reference to those lands, the form of affidavit was so changed that the
applicant was not required to swear that he wanted the land for settlement,
or wanted it for himself. This Act has some good features; but from enacting
clause to repealing section, its central idea seems to be the making easy
of land monopolisation, and the favouring of speculators at the expense of
settlers. In addition to sweeping away the restrictions as to amount and
to use, it provided that the settlers upon the 16th and 36th sections should
only be protected in their occupancy for six months after the passage of
the Act, after which the protection should only be for sixty days; and changed
the affidavit previously required, from a denial of other settlement to
a denial of valid adverse claim. Under this provision a regular business
has been driven in robbing settlers of their homes. Unless a new law is
very generally discussed in the newspapers (and land laws seldom are) it
takes a long time for the people to become acquainted with it; and there
were many settlers on State land who knew nothing of the limitation until
they received notification that somebody else had possession of a clear
title to their farms. Did space permit, numbers of cases of this kind of
robbery might be cited-some of them of widows and orphans, whose all was
ruthlessly taken from them; but I will confine myself to one case of recent
occurrence, where the looked-for plunder is unusually large.
The town of Amador, and the very valuable
Keystone Mine, are situated on the east half of a 36th section. The survey
which developed this fact was only made in the early part of the present
year. The Deputy Surveyor, who was evidently in the plot, returned to the
United States Land Office the plat of the township, with the mine and the
town marked in the west half. Application was at the same time made to the
State Surveyor-General, in the name of Henry Casey, for the east half. In
regular course~ the Surveyor-General sent the application to the United States
Land Office, whence it was returned, with a certificate that the land was
free; whereupon, the Surveyor-General approved the application, and twenty-five
cents per acre was paid the State. And thus for $80 cash, and $32 per annum
interest, a little knot of speculators have secured title to the Keystone
Mine, worth at least a million dollars, and the whole town of Amador, besides.
And as further evidence of the recklessness
of California land legislation, and of the lengths to which the land grabbers
are prepared to go, two facts may be cited: The last Legislature, instead
of repealing or removing the objectionable features from this Green law,
actually passed a special bill legalising all applications for State lands,
even where the affidavits by which they were supported did not conform
to the requirements of the law, either in form or in substance. After this
had been passed, on the last day of the session a bill was got through and
was signed by the Governor, designed to restrict applicants for lieu lands
to 320 acres. But after the Legislature had adjourned, when the Act came
to be copied in the Secretary of State's office, 10, and behold! it was discovered
that the engrossed and signed copy did not contain this provision.
Yet, to understand fully what a premium the
State has offered for the monopolisation of her school lands, there is
another thing to be explained. To purchase land of the State, an application
must be filed in the State Land Office, describing the land by range, township
and section, and stating under what grant the title is asked. This application
must be accompanied by a fee of five dollars. The Surveyor-General then
issues a certificate to the applicant, and sends the application to the United
States Land Office, for certification that the land is free, before he
approves the application and demands payment for the land. If there be no
record in his office of pre-emption, homestead or other occupation, the United
States Register thereupon marks the land off on his map, but he does not
certify to the State Surveyor-General until he gets his fee. The State Surveyor-General
has no appropriation to pay the fee, although the present incumbent asked
for one in his first report; and so the payment of the fee and the return
of the United States certificate depend upon the applicant, whose interest
it is, of course, not to get lit until he wishes to pay for his land. And
thus, by the payment of five dollars, a whole section of United States land
can be shut up from the settler. There are 1,244,()96 acres monopolised
in California to-day in this way. "For thousands and thousands of the acres
which are offered for sale on California and Montgomery streets there is
no other title than the payment of this five dollars. When the immigrant buys
of the speculator for two, five, ten or twenty dollars an acre, as the case
may be, then the speculator goes to the United States Land Office, pays the
Register's fee, gets his certificate and the State Surveyor General's approval,
and pays the State $1.25 per acre; or, if with the immigrant he has made
a bargain of that kind, he pays twenty-five cents per acre, and leaves his
purchaser to pay the dollar at some future time, with interest at ten per
SWAMP LAND GRABBING.
AND as the speculator has had a far better
opportunity in dealing with the State than with the United States, there
has been every inducement to get as much land as possible under the jurisdiction
of the State, by declaring it swamp land. The certificate of United States
officers as to the character of the land has not been waited for; but the
State has sold to every purchaser who would get the County Surveyor to
segregate the land he wanted, and procure a couple of affidavits as to
its swampy character. Probably one half of the land sold (or rather given,
as the money is returned) by the State as swamp, is not swamp at all, but
good dry land, that has been sworn to as swamp, in order to take it out of
the control of the pre-emption laws of the United States. The State has been
made the catspaw of speculators, and her name used as the cover under which
the richest lands in California might be monopolised and settlers robbed.
The seizure of these lands of the State (or rather by speculators in the
name of the State) is for the most part entirely illegal; but by the Act
of 1866, previous seizures were confirmed, and the land grabbers of California,
though Mr. Julian occasionally makes them some trouble, have powerful friends
in Washington, and unless energetic remonstrance is made, generally get
what they ask. This swamp land grant has not yielded a cent to the State,
but it has enabled speculators to monopolise hundreds of thousands of acres
of the most valuable lands in California, and, of course, to rob settlers.
For the settler, though he has a right under United States laws, can get
no record nor evidence of title until his land is surveyed and the plats
filed. In the meantime, if the speculator comes along and can get a couple
of affidavits as to the swampy character of the settler's farm, he has been
able to buy the title of the State. Lands thousands of feet above the level
of the sea have been purchased as swamp; lands over which a heavily loaded
wagon can be driven in the month of May; and even lands which cannot be cultivated
Sierra Valley is in Plumas county, in the
very heart of the mountains. Standing on its edge, you may at your option
toss a biscuit into a stream, which finally sinks in the great Nevada Basin,
or into the waters, which join the Pacific. When the snow melts in the
early spring, the mountain streams, which run through the valley, overflow
and spread over a portion of the land; but after a freshet has passed,
water has to be turned in through irrigating ditches to enable the lands
to produce their most valuable crop, hay. The valley is filled with pre-emption
and homestead settlers, who, besides then own homes and Improvements, have
built two churches and seven schoolhouses. Many of their farms are worth
$20 per acre. The swamp land robbers cast their eyes' on this pretty little
valley and its thrifty settlement, and the first thing the settlers knew
their farms had been bought of the State as swamp lands, and the United
States was asked to list them over. Energetic remonstrance was made, and
the matter was referred by the Department to the United States Surveyor
General to take testimony. His investigation has just been concluded, and
the attempted grab has probably failed. But in hundreds of cases, similar
ones on a smaller scale have succeeded.
Another recent attempt has been made to get
hold of 46,000 acres adjoining Sacramento. This land was formerly overshadowed
by the rejected Sutter grant, and for some time has been all pre-empted.
Something like a year ago it was surveyed and the plats returned to the
United States Land Office, with this land marked as swamp; applications being
at the same time made to the State for the land. The ex-Surveyor-General,
Sherman Day, signed the plats, and the land had actually been listed over
by the Department, when a protest was made and forwarded to Washington, accompanied
by his own personal testimony, by the new Surveyor-General, Hardenburgh,
who, having been long a resident of Sacramento, knew the character of the
land. This forced the suspension of the lists, very much, it seems, to the
indignation of the Acting Commissioner of the General Land Office, W. W. Curtis,
who wrote a letter to the Surveyor-General, which has been published in the
newspapers (which is a curiosity of official impudence), and which betrays
a very suspicious anger with what the Acting Commissioner seems to consider
the interference of the Surveyor-General.
Mr. Julian, in his speech entitled "Swamp
Land Swindles," has detailed how a party of speculators, one of whom was
ex-State Surveyor-General Houghton, and another the son of the then United
States Surveyor-General Upson, got hold of sixteen thousand acres in Colusa
(as to the dry character of which he gives affidavits}, under the swamp-land
laws, by having the survey of two townships made and approved in a few days,
just before the map of the California and Oregon Railroad Company was filed.
These swamp-land speculators are in many cases attempting to shelter themselves
behind the growing feeling against railroad grants; but bad as the railroad
grants are, the operations of these speculators are worse. The railroad
companies can only take half the lands; the speculators take it all. The
railroad companies cannot easily disturb previous settlers; but the speculators
take the settler's home from under his feet.
WHO HAVE OUR LANDS.
THE State Surveyor-General ought to give
in his next report (and if he does not the Legislature ought to call for
it) a list of the amounts of State lands taken in large quantities by single
individuals (with their names) under the Act of 1868. Such a list would
go far to open the eyes of the people of California to the extent their State
Government has been used to foster the land monopoly of which they are beginning
to complain. Yet such a list would not fully show what has been done, as
a great deal of land has been taken by means of dummies. Of the 16th and
36th sections proper, to which even now one individual cannot apply for more
than 320 acres, one speculator has secured 8000 acres in Colusa county alone.
Among those who have secured the largest amount from the State, either in
their own names or as attorneys for others, are W. S. Chapman, George W.
Roberts, ex-Surveyor-General Houghton, John Mullan, Will S. Green, H. C.
Logan, George H. Thompson, B. F. Maulden, I. N. Chapman, Leander Ransom, N.
N. Clay, E. H. Miller and James W. Shanklin. The larger amounts secured by
single individuals range from 20,000 acres to over 100,000.
WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE.
THE true course
in regard to State lands is that urged upon the Legislature by the present
Surveyor-General in his first annual report-to issue title only to the
actual settler who has resided on the land three years, and who has shown
his intention to make it his home by placing upon it at least $500 worth
of improvements. Had this course been adopted from the start, California
would today have had thousands more of people and millions more of property.
Had it even been adopted when urged by General Bost, over half a million
acres of land would have been saved to settlers—that is to say, four thousand
families might have found homesteads in California at nominal rates—at rates
so much lower than that which they must now pay that the difference would
more than have sufficed for all the expenses of their transportation from
To amend our policy
in regard to sales of State land now, is a good deal like locking the stable
door after the horse is stolen. Still it should be done. Our swamp lands
are all gone, and the most available of the school lands have gone also.
Yet there may be a million acres of good land left. These we cannot guard
with too jealous care.
THE POSSESSORY LAW.
BUT the catalogue of what the State of California
has done towards the monopolisation of her land does not end with a recital
of her acts as trustee of the land donated her by the general Government.
Besides giving these lands for the most part to monopolists, she has, by
her legislation, made possible the monopolisation of other vast bodies of
the public lands. Under her possessory laws before alluded to, millions
of acres are shut out from settlement, without their holders having the least
shadow of title. It is Government land, but unsurveyed. The only way of
getting title to it is to go upon it and live; but the laws of California
say that no one can go upon it until he has a better title than the holder-that
of possession. Tracts of from two to ten thousand acres thus held are common,
and in one case at least (in Lake county) a single firm has 28,000 acres
of Government land, open by the laws of the United States to pre-emption
settlers, enclosed by a board fence, and held under the State laws. It is
these laws that enable the Mexican grant owners to hold all the land they
can possibly shadow with their claims, and that offer them a premium to delay
the adjustment of their titles, in order that they may continue to hold, and
in many cases, to sell, far more than their grants call for.
HOW A LARGE QUANTITY OF PUBLIC LAND MAY BE
A LARGE appropriation for the survey of the
public lands in California, managed by a Surveyor-General who really wished
to do his duty, would open to settlers millions of acres from which
they are now excluded by railroad reservations or the monopolisation of individuals.
If our Representatives in Congress desire to really benefit their State,
they will neglect the works at Mare Island, the erection of public buildings
in San Francisco, and the appropriations for useless fortifications, until
they can get this.
And one of the first
acts of the next Legislature should be to limit the possessory law to 160
acres, which would be a quick method of breaking up possessory monopolisations.
In the meantime there is a remedy, though a slower and more cumbrous one.
At the last session of Congress an Act was passed (introduced by Mr. Sargent)
authorising the credit to settlers, on payments for their lands, of money
advanced for surveying them. Here is a means by which, with combined effort,
a large amount of public land may be freed. Let a number of settlers, sufficient
to bear the expense, go upon one of these large possessory claims. If
ejected, let them deposit the money for a survey with the United States
Surveyor-General, and the moment the lines are run and the plats are filed
they have a sure title to the land.
MORE MONOPOLISATION THREATENED—FOOD AND WATER.
THERE is little doubt that one of the greatest
attempts at monopolisation yet made in California would have followed the
passage of Sargent's bill for the sale of the Pacific Coast timber lands,
which was rushed through the House at the last session, but was passed
over by the Senate, and which has been re-introduced. These timber lands
are of incalculable value, for from them must come the timber supply, not
of the Pacific States alone, but of the whole Interior Basin, and nearly
all the Southern Coast. The present value of these lands when they can be
got at, may be judged by the fact that there are single trees upon the railroad
lands which yield at present prices over $500 worth of lumber. Under this
bill, these lands would have been saleable at $2.50 per acre. The limitation
or each purchaser to 640 acres would of course amount to nothing, and within
a short time after the passage of the bill, the available timber lands
would have passed into the hands of a small ring of large capitalists, who
would then have put the price or lumber at what figure they pleased. The
amount of capital required to do this would be by no means large when compared
with the returns, which would be enormous, for though some estimates of
the timber lands of California go as high as 30,000,000 acres, the means
of transportation as yet make but a small portion of this available. And
it would be only necessary to buy the land as it is opened, to virtually
control the whole of it. There is, however, a good deal to be said in favour
or the sale of these lands, and some legislation is needed, as there is
a great deal of land of no use but for its timber, but upon which individuals
cannot cut, except as trespassers, while the railroad company in the Sierras,
having been given the privilege of taking timber off Government land for
construction, has a monopoly there, and is clearing Government land in preference
to its own. If waste could be prevented, it would perhaps be best to leave
the timber free to all who chose to cut, on the principle that all the gifts
of nature, whenever possible, should be free, This is problematical, perhaps
impossible. If so, the plan proposed by Honourable Will S. Green, of Colusa,
seems to be the best of those yet brought forward; that is, to sell the
lands only to the builders of saw-mills, in amounts proportioned to the
capacity of the mill. At all events, almost anything would be better than
the creation of such a monstrous monopoly as would at once have sprung
up under the Sargent bill—a monopoly which would have taxed the people
or California millions annually, and would have raised the price of timber
on the whole coast.
It is not only the
land and the timber, but even the water of California that is threatened with
monopoly, as by virtue of laws designed to encourage the construction of
mining and irrigation ditches, the mountain streams and natural reservoirs
are being made private property, and already we are told that all the water
of a large section of the State is the property of a corporation of San
THE EFFECT OF LAND MONOPOLISATION IN CALIFORNIA.
IT is not we, of this generation, but our
children of the next, who will' fully realise the evils of the land monopolisation
which we have permitted and encouraged; for those evils do not begin to
fully show themselves until , population becomes dense.
But already, while
our great State, with an area larger than that of France or Spain or Turkey-with
an area equal to that of all of Great Britain, Holland, Belgium, Denmark
and Greece combined-does not contain the population of a third-class modern
city; already, ere we have commenced to manure our lands or to more than
prospect the treasures of our hills, the evils of land monopolisation are
showing themselves in such unmistakable signs that he who runs may read.
This is the blight that has fallen upon California, stunting her growth and
mocking her golden promise, offsetting to the immigrant the richness of her
soil and the beneficence of her climate.
It has already impressed
its mark upon the character of our agriculture-more shiftless, perhaps, than
that of any State in the Union where slavery has not reigned. For California
is not a country of farms, but a country of plantations and estates. Agriculture
is a speculation. The farm-houses, as a class, are unpainted frame shanties,
without garden or flower or tree. The farmer raises wheat; he buys his meat,
his flour, his butter, his vegetables, and, frequently, even his eggs. He
'has too much land to spare time for such little things, or for beautifying
his home, or he is merely a renter, or an occupant of land menaced by some
adverse title, and his interest is but to get for this season the greatest
crop that can be made to grow with the least labour. He hires labour for
his planting and his reaping, and his hands shift for themselves at other
seasons of the year. His plough he leaves standing in the furrow, when the
year's ploughing is done; his mustangs he turns upon the hills, to be lassoed
when again needed. He buys on credit at the nearest store, and when his crop
is gathered must sell it to the Grain King's agent, at the Grain King's prices.
And there is another
type of California farmer. He boards at the San Francisco hotels, and drives
a spanking team over the Cliff House road; or, perhaps, he spends his
time in the gayer capitals of the East or Europe. His land is rented for
one third or one fourth of the crop, or is covered by scraggy cattle, which
need to look after them only a few half-civilised vaqueros; or his great
wheat fields, of from ten to twenty thousand acres, are ploughed and sown
and reaped by contract. And over our ill-kept, shadeless, dusty roads, where
a house is an unwonted landmark, and which run frequently for miles through
the same man's land, plod the tramps, with blankets on back -the labourers
of the California farmer-looking for work, in its seasons, or toiling back
to the city when the ploughing is ended or the wheat crop is gathered. I
do not say that this picture is a universal one, but it is a characteristic
It is not only in
agriculture, but in all other avocations, and in all the manifestations of
social life, that the effect of land monopoly may be seen-in the knotting
up of business into the control of little rings, in the concentration of
capital into a few hands, in the reduction of wages in the mechanical trades,
in the gradual decadence of that independent personal habit both of thought
and action which gave to California life its greatest charm, in the palpable
differentiation of our people into the classes of rich and poor. Of the
"general stagnation" of which we of California have been so long complaining,
this is the most efficient cause. Had the unused land of California been
free, at Government terms, to those who would cultivate it, instead of this
"general stagnation" of the past two years, we should have seen a growth
unexampled in the history of even the American States. For with all our
hyperbole, it is almost impossible to overestimate the advantages with which
nature has so lavishly endowed this Empire State of ours. "God's Country,"
the returning prospectors used to call it, and the strong expression loses
half of its irreverence as, coming over sage-brush plains, from the still
frost-bound East, the traveller winds, in the early spring, down the slope
of the Sierras, through interminable ranks of evergreen giants, past laughing
rills and banks of wild flowers, and sees under their cloudless sky the vast
fertile valleys stretching out to the dark blue Coast Range in the distance.
But while nature has done her best to invite newcomers, our land policy has
done its best to repel them. We have said to the immigrant: "It is a fair
country which God has made between the Sierras and the sea, but before you
settle in it and begin to reap His bounty, you must pay a forestaller roundly
for his permission." And the immigrant having far to come and but scanty
capital, has as a general thing stayed away.
THE LANDED ARISTOCRACY OF CALIFORNIA.
THOUGH California is a young State; though
she is a poor State, and though a few years ago she was a State in which
there was less class distinction than in any State in the Union, she can
already boast of an aristocracy based on the surest foundation-that of landownership.
I have been at some
trouble to secure a list of the large landowners of California, but find
exact and reliable information on that point difficult to obtain. The property
of most of the largest landowners is scattered through various counties of
the State, and a comparison of the books of the various assessors would be
the only means of forming even an approximate list. These returns, however,
are far from reliable. It has not been the custom to list land held by
mere possessory title, and the practice of most of the assessors has been
to favour large landholders. The Board of Equalisation have ferreted out
many interesting facts in this regard, which will probably be set forth in
their coming report. Some remarkable discrepancies, of which the proportion
is frequently as one to ten, are shown between the assessors' lists and the
inventories of deceased landowners. In San Luis Obispo, one of the largest
landowners and land speculators in the State returns to the assessor a total
of 4366 acres. Reference to the United States Land Offices shows that he
holds in that county, of United States land, 43,266 acres.
The largest landowners
in California are probably the members of the great Central-Southern Pacific
Railroad Corporation. Were the company land divided, it would give them
something like two million acres apiece; and in addition to their company
land, most of the individual members own considerable tracts in their own
got the Western Pacific land grant, has some three or four hundred thousand
acres. Outside of these railroad grants, the largest single holder is,
probably, Wm. S. Chapman, of San Francisco, the "pioneer" scrip speculator,
who has some 350,000 acres; though ex-State Surveyor-General Houghton is
said by some to own still more. Ex-United States Surveyor-General Beals has
some 300,000 acres. Across his estate one may ride for seventy-five miles.
Miller & Lux, San Francisco wholesale butchers, have 450,000. Around one
of their patches of ground there are 160 miles of fence. Another San Francisco
firm, Bixby, Flint & Co., have between 150,000 and 200,000 acres. George
VV. Roberts & Co. own some 120,000 acres of swamp land. Isaac Friedlander,
San Francisco grain merchant, has about 100,000 acres. Throckmorton, of
Mendocino, some 146,000; the Murphy family of Santa Clara, about 150,000;
John Foster of Los Angeles, 120,000; Thomas Fowler, of Fresno, Tulare and
Kern, about 200,000. Abel Stearns, of Los Angeles, had some 200,000 acres,
but has sold a good deal. A firm in Santa Barbara advertises for sale 200,000
acres, owned by Philadelphia capitalists.
As for the poorer
members of our California peerage—the Marquises, Counts, Viscounts, Lords
and Barons—who hold but from 80,000 to 20,000 acres, they are so numerous,
that, though I have a long list, I am afraid to name them for fear of making
invidious distinctions, while the simple country squires, who hold but
from five to twenty thousand acres, are more numerous still.
These men are the
lords of California—lords as truly as ever were ribboned Dukes or belted
Barons in any country under the sun. We have discarded the titles of an
earlier age; but we have preserved the substance, and, though instead of
"your grace," or "my lord," we may style them simply "Mr.," the difference
is only in a name. They are our Land Lords just as truly. If they do not
exert the same influence and wield the same power, and enjoy the same wealth,
it is merely because our population is but six hundred thousand, and their
tenantry have not yet arrived. Of the millions of acres of our virgin soil
which their vast domains enclose, they are absolute masters" and upon it no
human creature can come, save by their permission and upon their terms.
From the zenith above, to the centre of the earth below (so our laws run),
the universe is theirs.
It must not be imagined
that these large landholders are merely speculators—that they have got hold
of land for the purpose of quickly selling it again. On the contrary, as
a class, they have a far better appreciation of the future value of land and
the power, which its ownership gives, than have the people at large who have
thoughtlessly permitted this monopolisation to go on. Many of the largest
landholders do not desire to sell, and will not sell for anything like
current prices; but on the contrary are continually adding to their domains.
Among these, is one Irish family, who have seen at home what the ownership
of the soil of a country means. They rent their land; they will not sell
it; and this is true of many others. Sometimes this indisposition to sell
is merely the result of considerations of present interest. As for instance:
An agent of a society of settlers recently went to a large landholder in
a southern county, and offered him a good price for enough land to provide
about two hundred people with small farms. The landholder refused the offer
and the agent proceeded to call his attention to the increase in the value
of his remaining land, which this settlement would cause. "It may be," said
the landholder, "but I should lose money. If you bring two hundred settlers
here, they will begin agitating for a repeal of the fence law, and will
soon compel it by their votes. Then I will be obliged to spend two or three
hundred thousand dollars to fence in the rest of my ranch, and as fences
do not fatten cattle, it will be worth no more to me than now."
Let me not be understood
as reproaching the men who have honestly acquired large tracts of land.
As the world goes, they are not to be blamed. If the people put saddles
on their backs, they must expect somebody to jump astride to ride. If we
must have an aristocracy, I would prefer that my children should be members
of it, rather than of the common herd. While as for the men who have resorted
to dishonest means, the probabilities are that most of them enjoy more of
the respect of their fellows, and its fruits, than if they had been honest
and got less land.
The division of
our land into these vast estates derives additional significance from the
threatening wave of Asiatic immigration whose first ripples are already
breaking upon our shores. What the barbarians enslaved by foreign wars were
to the great landlords of ancient Italy, what the blacks of the African
coast were to the great landlords of the Southern States, the Chinese coolies
may be, in fact are already beginning to be, to the great landlords of our